Before The Beatles became a legendary supergroup whose music is still celebrated by generations of fans, there was The Quarrymen.
The name of John Lennon’s first skiffle/rock and roll group, the Quarrymen was formed in 1956 and featured some of Lennon’s school mates.
One of those mates was Rod Davis, who grew up with Lennon near Liverpool, and played with him as a small child, even attending Sunday school with the future legend.
Currently touring Canada in celebration of what would have been Lennon’s 75th birthday, Oct. 9, Davis will tell some of those stories from the early days at the Best Western Vernon Lodge, Oct. 15.
Hosted by the Vernon Folk-Roots Music Society (VFRMS), the show will also feature a PowerPoint presentation with photos of the guys and the places where they grew up and performed.
“He will also be playing some of the songs he sang with Lennon so long ago, and will wrap up the evening with a Q&A from the audience,” said Paul Tessier, with the VFRMS.
Davis, who grew up in Woolton, a suburb of Liverpool, first met Lennon at St. Peter’s Church, where the boys both attended Sunday school.
Later, they found themselves students at Quarry Bank High School with fellow schoolmates Eric Griffiths and Pete Shotten, and started a band called The Quarrymen, named after their school.
Davis was asked to play banjo in the band.
“Eric and John taught me which chords to play and I soon learnt to busk,” recalled Davis in his bio.
Also enlisting drummer Colin Hanton and Len Garry on tea chest bass, The Quarrymen started playing at youth clubs and local dances. A breakthrough came in January, 1957 when Liverpool’s now famous The Cavern club opened its doors for the first time and The Quarrymen were invited to play there.
The two most famous gigs of this era, for which photographs still survive, were Rosebery Street in June and St. Peter’s Church fête on July 6, 1957, the fateful day when Lennon met a young upstart named Paul McCartney.
“I never actually played with Paul as I drifted out of the Quarrymen in the summer of 1957,” said Davis in his bio. “I stayed on at Quarry Bank (High School) into the sixth form but all the others had left: John Lennon to go to Liverpool College of Art, Pete Shotton to become a police cadet, and Eric Griffiths to become an apprentice.”
While McCartney and George Harrison would eventually be recruited to play in The Quarrymen, the band that would eventually become The Beatles, Davis became involved in numerous other musical projects, learning to play mandolin and fiddle.
In 1964, he became part of the Bluegrass Ramblers and in the ‘80s, he played with a Tex-Mex band called the Armadillos. In between, he won a scholarship to Cambridge University to study languages, where he became a member (and eventually president) of the University St. Lawrence Folk-Song Society.
After Cambridge, Davis taught English in Regensburg, Germany from ‘63 to ‘64 and also taught French and Spanish until 1968, when he became an expedition driver for a company called Minitrek Expeditions, taking trips to Russia, Turkey and across the Sahara desert.
In 1997, at the 40th anniversary party of The Cavern, the surviving members of the Quarrymen reunited on stage.
They would go on to play dozens of gigs on both sides of the Atlantic and also in Russia and Japan. They produced two CDs, containing skiffle and rock ‘n’ roll played in the same style as in the ‘50s with washboard and tea-chest bass. This was followed by a DVD in 2009.
Some surviving members of The Quarrymen (Davis, Garry, Hanton and pianist John Duff Lowe, who joined the Quarrymen when McCartney did) are still playing the occasional gig, even now in 2015.
Having been first a teacher, then a university lecturer, Davis says he is very much at home entertaining an audience with tales of how the music scene developed in the mid-’50s and of growing up in Liverpool and attending the same school as Lennon and playing in his first group.
His talk involves members of the audience learning at first hand how a skiffle group functions, and re-creating the early days of The Beatles.
Beatles’ fans, music students and many others should be fascinated and amused by this unassuming man and his memories.
Tickets for Davis’ performance and talk at the Vernon Best Western Lodge, Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m., are available at the Ticket Seller (250-549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca), the Bean Scene or at www.vernonfolkroots.com.